It was while sitting in a cafe in Cambridge, lamenting the lack of hands-on research opportunities in our undergraduate degrees, that we suddenly decided to embark on our own, independent project that would take us into classrooms up and down the country.
We both have somewhat unusual educational backgrounds – Freya went to Summerhill (an alternative school in which the pupils and staff create the rules in a regular democratic school meeting) and was home-educated, while Dan went to a Steiner school in Germany – and we quickly discovered a shared frustration with many aspects of mainstream schooling in the UK that appear to alienate us from the intrinsic value of teaching and learning.
Yet when it comes to discussing what genuine change in the education system might look like, we continue to be struck by the lack of space given to children’s voices in both research circles and policy debates.
Leap forward 18 months and today (Thursday 11th May) we visited our tenth and final primary school as part of our journey to gain an insight into children’s diverse experiences of and ideas for their classrooms and their school community.
This research journey has taken us from mainstream schools in inner-city Manchester, Birmingham and London to Montessori and Steiner schools in the East of England. We have learned a huge amount from the teachers and pupils we have spoken to; each school has raised its writers and existing researchers – as well as our own perspectives – to create a critical, reflective commentary on primary education.
In particular, we want to consider whether approaches in the alternative sector should and could be integrated into mainstream provision. We intend to open-source the final document online, to share with anybody who shares our interest in education and alternatives to the status quo.
We were delighted to have the opportunity to visit Lewes New School and were incredibly grateful for the warm welcome and inspiring conversations – with both staff and children – which we had throughout the day. It was a privilege to be in a school in which people felt so visibly comfortable and at home, and in which the values espoused – far from mere buzzwords – are tangibly lived out in the day to day experiences of the school community.
Thank you for having us, we look forward to staying in touch!
Freya Aquarone and Daniel Selwyn, University of Cambridge, researchers of alternative educational practice.